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Nurses and Clinicians Want E-Learning, But Is It Effective?


Thu Apr 30 2020

Nurses and Clinicians Want E-Learning, But Is It Effective?

Medical professionals recognize the need for continuous learning. They understand that the stakes are high at their jobs and upskilling is essential. However, frantic schedules inhibit clinicians from immersing themselves in learning for extended periods of time.

Continuing education requirements are a clear and measurable motivation to engage in ongoing learning. But most medical professionals are motivated beyond the requirements to keep their licenses. They understand that nothing is stagnant in their work. There are always new and improved techniques, devices, and procedures that need to be learned and mastered. One registered nurse who I spoke to said it best: "Keeping current is an expectation but keeping ahead of the curve is a guaranteed way to be a 'go-to' nurse."


We Can Reduce Their Barriers to Learning

E-learning is an effective way to reach busy professionals in a highly regulated industry. Most e-learning courses can bookmark progress if the learner needs to leave unexpectedly, and these courses are available anytime through various devices. This modality offers an economical way to reach a distributed workforce with a consistent message. But we cannot expect to serve a clinical workforce without tailoring our message, approach, and thought process to meet their specific needs.

Many medical professionals engage in e-learning experiences at shared workstations. These machines are often located in hallways or nurses' stations. The devices rarely have audio capabilities, the environments lack privacy, and the expectation of interruptions is so common that colleagues will rarely hesitate to do so.

This environment, coupled with the ever-evolving nature of clinical roles, has created a culture that understands the importance of learning but has no patience for irrelevant activities. As learning professionals, we need to find ways to truly understand the needs of this audience before we can ever hope to meet those needs. There are no neutral events here—every learning event that we put in front of this audience either adds to or takes away from the credibility of the next learning event they encounter. If we skip over discovery steps, ignore the constraints of their environment, or make assumptions that end up being incorrect, we increase the chance that our course is irrelevant. And they do not have time to give us a second chance.

Clinical personnel want to gain knowledge when and where it is convenient for them. E-learning can meet this need. However, we need to do some homework first if we hope to truly understand this audience.

  • Spend Some Time in Their Environment. Hang out. Observe. Job shadow—even if it is just for a single shift. Discover the nuances that clinical personnel encounter every day but never think to tell you about. I asked several nurses about what they valued most in e-learning. It did not take long to realize that nearly every respondent valued relevance first, duration next, and modality a distant third. This prioritization applied to regulatory learning, systems training, and even professional development.

  • Build Meaningful Partnerships With Clinicians, Subject Matter Experts, and Those Who Are Accountable for Training Frontline Medical Professionals. All these people have a vested interest in getting the right information to the right people in the most efficient way possible. Embrace this shared goal and your relationships will grow alongside the quality of your output.

  • Use This Information to Create Accurate Personas. Personas are detailed profiles of individuals who represent specific groups of learners. They are fictional representations of the actual learners in your target audience. Creating personas can keep you focused on the needs your audience. They help you predict how your learners will react as they encounter your course, and they allow you to build more engaging content along the way.

Once you have identified the unique needs of your audience, you can apply the tools at your disposal to meet those needs.


1. Develop Content That Meets the Greatest Need in the Simplest Way

I once had the opportunity to listen to designer and educator Bruce Mau speak, and he said something that has stuck with me for more than a decade: "Award-winning design is not good design." He said this as a statement of fact, but it still sounded crazy. As it turns out, designs that win awards have often taken their eyes off the needs of the customer and set them on the cool, clever, avant-garde that draws the attention of juries. Clinicians do not care if your course wins an award. They want to know what they want to know in a way that they can recall whenever needed.

2. Do What You Can to Reduce the Amount of Content Within Your Courses

Then apply that same effort to reducing the number of courses themselves. "Less filler and less courses" was a reoccurring request from nurses in particular. This drive toward shorter courses is not simply following a fad.

3. Provide Opportunities for Learners to Skip Content by Demonstrating Knowledge Through Pretests or Periodic Knowledge Checks


The answers to these questions can take the learner to branching content that skips over areas where mastery has been demonstrated and settles on areas of need.

4. Determine Where Your Learner Would Need to Use the Information You Are Providing

This information can make a difference in what solution you choose to deliver. In many cases, a course could be replaced with a video or even a simple job aid delivered to a phone, tablet, or print.

Medical professionals are motivated learners, but they have legitimate hurdles standing in their way. The good news is that we know how to help. In fact, we are uniquely equipped to do so.

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